Legg Mason Wednesday
The day's opening match on Stadium Court again produced excitement. The combatants were Austrian left-hander Jurgen Melzer, age 30, now at #18 in the ATP rankings, and American Donald Young, age 22, ranked #128, also a lefty, who had been the world's top-ranked junior back in 2005. Aside from a losing doubles effort earlier in the week, it was Jurgen's first North American match after European clay. Meanwhile Donald had comfortably won his first-round singles here. Despite the disparity in their rankings, the two would prove quite evenly matched.
Melzer came out swinging away with full rocketry, apparently determined to overpower the younger player. Not many shots found their target but the spraying persisted until interrupted by rain, Donald having won the first two games. Upon resumption an hour later, Jurgen gradually brought his big game under control and, showing some fine movement and defense, managed to equalize the score. In the set-ending tiebreaker the score went to six points all, whereupon Melzer ended matters first with a fine drop-shot/follow-up combination and in the next point by applying heavy and winning pressure in an extended rally. With the dominating player now ahead by a set and playing well, it looked as if the pre-match difference in rankings had indeed predicted correctly.
Early in the second set, Melzer only narrowly avoided falling behind by engineering some superb serve-and-volley sorties. But little-by-little thereafter it became the younger player who was now playing closer to air-tight tennis, even as he was also showing better attacking and variety. Donald's volleying and overhead errors, along with his vulnerability to Jurgen's occasional drop shots, were now ended, and Donald was beginning to pull off some successful net approaches. The American was now the point decider -- the stronger player if he was able to avoid errors. Donald broke serve late in the second set to win the set, and then broke again to start set three. Clearly Donald was in position to win.
Rain then suddenly interrupted play once again. Soon afterwards Jurgen announced that he was retiring because of a pulled leg muscle.
It was hard to tell when the injury happened. Donald afterwards said that his opponent's movement had been excellent during his mid-match surge, but that Jurgen had briefly shown mild concern with his leg on one occasion between points late in the match. Replying to other Êquestions, Donald explained that he had not been surprised by Jurgen's all-out hitting early. Jurgen often plays that way, he said, and indeed had done so in defeating Donald in their two meetings several years ago.
Donald's victory was a worthy achievement for the young American.
The rain delays created time to mull over past Legg Masons, which for me began in reporting for Tennis Server in 1998. That was during the reign of Andrei Agassi over several years of strong performances, who assuredly bolstered attendance critically. Andy Roddick then became the event-king, winning several times and becoming the one who filled the seats. Juan Martin del Potro won twice, in 2008 and 2009, but was sidelined for wrist surgery and has not yet claimed Andy's role.
Thinking over the hundreds of past matches, the one that most stands out in memory happened in my first year, 1998. Andrei Agassi and Michael Chang were the event's prime headliners, but when Michael was forced to withdraw at the last minute from their featured Saturday evening semi-final with a full house on hand, the tournament seemed in trouble. (The other semi had been played in the afternoon session.) The occasion nevertheless became a memorable success, however, thanks to a crowd-pleasing doubles semi-final introducing a couple of lads, twins, fresh from Stanford University.
It was not the pro debut of the brothers, but it was certainly their first prime-time appearance on the main tour. Their incessant hopping between points, their frequent hand-touching and chest-butting, and their general freedom of expression throughout, wholly won over what had been a grumpy audience. Even more significantly, they brought an energetic and aggressive kind of doubles along with a seldom seen brand of teamwork that kept matters close against their well-regarded opponents, Grant Stafford and the future doubles star Kevin Ullyett.
Bob and Mike Bryan lost the first set, won the second, then lost the third. Matters were always close, and many points brought thunderous crowd approval. As Stafford dolefully predicted in a one-on-one session afterwards in the player lounge -- yes, he and Kevin had won the match, but the tennis world would soon make celebrities of their talented and attractive opponents of this night. It was a prophetic comment.
The brothers, rained out today, remain the pair to beat in Legg Mason 2011.